16th March 2008, Colombo, Sri Lanka: The Free Media Movement (FMM) expresses it series concern over the attack on the family of a Tamil female journalist on 14th March 2008. The family of Maunasmi Parameshwari, herself a repeated victim of false accusations and lengthy detention by the Police on unfounded and unproven allegations, was attached by a mob that claimed they were supporters of the LTTE. Parameshwari’s father and sister were seriously injured in the attack.
The mob had encircled the house and prevented those who were injured from seeking or gaining access to medical help. They also threatened to burn Paramashwari alive if she ever returned to Gampola. The Gampola Police had eventually rescued the family members. This is the not the first time that a gang of thugs had threatened Parameshwari and her family.
The FMM condemns this dastardly act and demands that the Police produce the gang members in court of law without any delay. We fear this incident could be a precedent for unruly anti-media groups to hunt down independent journalists labeled as traitors by various political groups and government authorities.
FMM holds the Government directly accountable for any harm inflicted to the family of Parameshwaree, Parameshwaree herself and courageous investigative journalists like her. Journalists who write critically of Government policies, its significant and growing corruption, the flagrant abuse of power and the complete impunity with which Government MPs harass and physically attack media personnel live today in fear of their lives. The latest terror tactic by gangs close to sections of the Government and inflamed by the naming and shaming of journalists as traitors and supports of the LTTE clearly undermines media freedom and the freedom of expression.
Governance through terror and fear is the Government’s forte today. It is the responsibility of all democratic forces to support journalists to ensure the restoration of democratic governance, the rule of law and through them, media freedom in Sri Lanka.
Parameshwari was arrested in November 2006 by the Terrorist Investigation Division (TID) of Police and kept in custody for 100 days before releasing her in March 2007 without any charges. As we note in the FMM Press Release on the occasion of Parameshwaree’s release from Police custody on 22nd March 2007,
“…the day after she was arrested, three Sinhala newspapers carried headline stories stating that as a result of the statements to the Police by her female friend, who was arrested with along with her, they were able to recovered 10kg of high explosives and 10 claymore mines. It was later discovered that this story was entirely fabricated and planted in the media. Even worse, several Government ministers went on record saying that she was being held in custody because of her connection with terrorists.
We note with deep regret that because of these baseless public allegations the family and friends of Parameshwaree will invariably continue to face a great deal of public opprobrium and ridicule, especially in a context where, as the FMM has noted with deep concern in the recent past, Members of Parliament and other ultra-nationalist groups opposed to the peace process brand pro-peace and media rights activists as those who support terrorism and should be, accordingly, silenced even through extra-judicial means.”
The Mawbima newspaper, where she worked as a crime reporter was forced to close down because of outlandishly repressive measures taken by the Government against the newspaper company including the arrest of its owner and financial manger as well as the freezing of its assets.
Incredibly, even after her release, Paramashwari received a number of threats and was kidnapped on 24th April 2007. She was forced into a van, her hands tied and then assaulted by several men in uniform who threatened her with death if she continued with crime reporting, investigations into the abductions or even worked in the media. After this incident she was constantly followed by security personnel in both uniform and in civilian clothing. On 14th June 2007, two persons posing as CID officials took away her Passport and National ID at gun point. Recently plainclothes policemen has visited the vicinity of her boarding place in Colombo and warned them not to rent any rooms for her.